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The Clinton Way: Hillary Follows a Familiar Script

Hillary Clinton took what she thinks is the least risky path when it comes to actually winning an election.
Image: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)Reuters

Our colleague Perry Bacon Jr. put it well: What we learned yesterday is that Hillary Clinton hasn’t changed a thing. In her news conference responding to her use of personal emails as secretary of state, Clinton was 1) lawyerly, 2) dismissive of the news media’s interest in the story (that’s why she began her remarks talking about her speech at the UN and the Iran negotiations), 3) telling reporters and the public that they were going to have to trust her regarding the emails she preserved versus those she didn’t, and 4) giving Democrats and defenders just the bare minimum (she will release all of her work-related emails but not turn over her private server). Folks, this is the Clinton Way. Secretive. Lawyerly. Dismissive of the press. And if there’s a big danger here, it’s looking like a candidate of the past instead of a candidate of the future when nearly 60% of American voters want change, per our most recent NBC/WSJ poll.

But remember, The Clinton Way usually wins

But there’s one other important thing to remember about the Clinton Way: With just one big exception -- in 2008 against Barack Obama -- they win. Just look at the most recent NBC/WSJ poll. Bill Clinton is the most popular political figure in America with a 56%-26% fav/unfav rating, and wife Hillary is just behind him at 44%-36%. That’s better than President Obama (44%-43%), Scott Walker (15%-16%), George W. Bush (35%-39%), and Jeb Bush (23%-34%). Also in the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton has already united almost every Democrat before the 2016 race begins in earnest -- 86% of Democratic primary voters say they could see themselves supporting her, compared with 13% who couldn’t. And here’s the thing about the email story: The ONLY way Clinton would have satisfied the political press and critics is if she turned over her private server to an independent entity. But there’s a BIG risk with that kind of move. Is there an email that could launch a thousand stories? Hillary yesterday took the least risky path -- that she thinks -- when it comes to actually winning an election. Again, that’s the Clinton Way.

Why the Clinton camp feels good after yesterday

As rough as the reviews and Twitter commentary were of Hillary’s performance yesterday, her supporters feel good about two things. One, they’ve now dealt with the issue. And two, the biggest critics are the news media and House Republicans, both of whom aren’t exactly beloved by the American public.

The unanswered questions

Still, there are a few unanswered questions we have:

  • Who owns the Clinton’s private server? Was it paid for by government funds under the “Former Presidents Act”?
  • When it comes to the “convenience” of having just one email account because she didn’t want two phones, why wasn’t she able to add a second account to a phone?
  • She recently said that she now has a blackberry AND an iPhone. Is that now AFTER being secretary of state?
  • Why should the American people trust her to determine which emails were private and which ones were work-related?

The biggest political question going forward for Hillary

And here’s one more question: How do Democrats view her response -- and is it enough for them to begin to defend her? Remember, the Democrats who have criticized her in recent days -- Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin -- simply said they wanted Clinton to EXPLAIN herself and end her silence. Here was Feinstein on Meet the Press last Sunday: "She is the leading candidate, whether it be Republican or Democrat, for the next president...from this point on, the silence is going to hurt her." Here was Durbin on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “I’d like to hear her explanation. I think Dianne Feinstein was right – she should come forward and explain the situation.” What would turn yesterday’s very uneven response (and we’re being charitable) into a disaster is if we find Democrats who are still asking questions after today. But so far, the likes of Feinstein are pleased. “I think the important thing was that she stepped forward and she talked to people. And I think people will be reassured listening to it,” Feinstein told NBC News. And remember, the Dem 2016ers -- Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb -- have been unwilling to criticize Clinton. That’s significant. In 2007, Team Obama would have a field day with type of story. But there isn’t an Obama-like alternative in 2015. And the current alternatives out there aren’t speaking up.

Team Jeb trying to portray Walker as a flip-flopping Romney

Speaking of primary opponents criticizing each other (or not), don’t miss this from the Washington Post on the budding Jeb Bush-vs.-Scott Walker rivalry. “Bush supporters fired back [at Walker] on Tuesday, starting when Al Cardenas, a Miami-based lawyer and longtime Bush supporter, took to Twitter to attack Walker’s shifting positions: ‘Did u know S Walker was for path to citizenship. Now not? Did u know he was against ethanol subsidy, now he is for? Do u really know him?’ In an e-mail to The Washington Post, Bush ally Ana Navarro repeated the theme, suggesting Walker was starting to sound a bit like that most renowned of Republican flip-floppers, Mitt Romney.” But what’s worse in a GOP primary -- being seen as a flip-flopper, or being on the wrong side of key issues like immigration and Common Core?

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